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Bishops say abortion law will eventually be repealed

Approaching the 5th anniversary of the repeal of the 8th amendment, the Catholic Bishops Conference have said that the narrative around abortion must be changed and asserted their belief that Ireland’s abortion law will eventually be repealed.

“Following the referendum on abortion in May 2018, we said: “a new situation now exists in Ireland. It is essential for us as a Church, which cares passionately about the gift of life, and wants to support both mothers and their unborn children, to seek better ways of responding to this new and very challenging reality,” the Bishops wrote in a statement.

“The care that the Church has for mothers and their babies is part of the mission of the whole Church and must be lived out in our daily lives, private and professional.

“Today, we reaffirm our conviction that the innate dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death, is a value for the whole of society, rooted in reason as well as in faith. No matter what legislation is passed in any country, the fundamental right to life for all human beings at every stage of development still prevails.”The bishops remain convinced that the relevant law, the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 will, in due course, be repealed.  Bishops said, “in the meantime, the Church will continue to seek loving and supportive protection for every mother and for every child in the womb, including babies diagnosed with a disability or a life-limiting condition.  We will continue to do their best to change the narrative through dialogue and by testifying, in season and out of season, to the Gospel of Life.”

Since abortion was legalised in Ireland at the end of 2018, some 31,000 babies have been aborted, pro-life group the Life Institute has said – noting that numbers “rocketed” again in 2022, with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly saying some 8,500 abortions had taken place.

The Bishops also spoke about the review of the abortion act which has now gone to the Health Committee – and which has called for a further liberalisation of the legislation.

“In December 2021, the Government of Ireland announced a public consultation as part of the process of reviewing the operation of the Act. This was not a review of the Act in itself, but only a review of how it operates.

“The stated purpose was to establish whether the Act was effective in what it set out to do, namely ending the lives of unborn babies.”

Why did so many women seek Abortion?

Ninety-eight percent of all abortions carried out to-date under the Act took place in early pregnancy (during the first twelve weeks). The Act does not require that any reason be given for an abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

The State does not ask why so many women sought abortion. As far as the review is concerned it is as if the women did not exist; theircircumstances are not discussed. The mechanics of Ireland’s abortion regime have been reviewed, but the human experience of loss and loneliness remains largely cloaked from public scrutiny.

The Bishops’ Statement also pointed to how the government’s review includes ten pages of recommendations for changes in the law or in the regulations pertaining to abortion, which are clearly aimed at making the Act more effective in the taking of human life. It referred specifically go four of these: The Mandatory Three-Day Waiting Period, Freedom of Conscience, the provision of “Safe Access Zones,” and the Decriminalisation of Abortion.

On the three day wait, the Bishops said they opposed any efforts to remove the timeframe, stating:

“The evidence is that over a quarter of women did not return to complete the abortion. The review now recommends that the three-day pause would become purely advisory. We strongly oppose this recommendation, which would weaken protection both for women and for babies.

“We call on the Government, instead, to be proactive in proposing alternatives to abortion, which would both support women and protect babies. Neither do we accept the recommendation that thetwelve-week period during which early abortion can take place without any reason being given, would be extended under certain circumstances.”

The Bishops also pointed to the importance of freedom of conscience for doctors, stating:

“Almost 90% of GPs do not participate in the provision of early abortion.3 It is not entirely clear how many of them have made this decision on the grounds of conscience. It is almost certainly much higher than the 26% suggested in there view.

“The HSE identifies conscientious objection as a major factor in the refusal of hospital consultants to provide abortion.”

Further, they stated that the figure of 17,820 terminations in the review “does not take into account the fact that, according to the HSE, the number of terminations reported in 2021 was very significantly less than the number for which doctors were paid.”

The Bishops’ also said that the description of abortion as “healthcare” was “an abuse of language.”

“As we have already pointed out, no connection with the health of the mother or the child is given as the reason for the vast majority of abortions in Ireland,” they said.

”Yet, the Review now recommends that the provision of abortion should feature as a mandatory requirement in job specifications and in contracts of employment. Failure to comply would result in termination of employment. This, quite frankly, is a shocking proposal.”

The statement continued: “Freedom of conscience is a fundamental human right and cannot simply be over-ridden in this way. We totally reject the suggestion that healthcare professionals who respect the right to life would be excluded from practicing in maternity care, or from obstetrics and gynaecology generally.”

Regarding the legislation for the Provision of “Safe Access Zones”, the Bishops highlighted the right to freedom of expression, stating: “Limiting the right to peaceful assembly is not the action of a State which purports to present itself as having liberal-democratic values.

“We believe that those who conscientiously oppose abortion as a crime against humanity must be free to express their concerns in a respectful and non-violent manner in the public space.”

The Bishops also rejected the recommendation for the De-criminalisation of Abortion, stating:

”The Act (Section 23) regulates the circumstances in which the termination of pregnancy is not a criminal offence. In all other circumstances, abortion remains a crime. The Review recommends that medical practitioners should be removed from the scope of Section 23.

“In other words, if doctors carry out abortions in contravention of the Act, they would not be guilty of a crime. We reject this recommendation on the grounds that nobody should be above the law when it comes to protecting human life.

In its statement, the Bishops called on people of faith, five years on from the referendum, to consider “what further we can do to support women and to restore the recognition of the right to life of unborn children.”

They shared a few possibilities, advising Catholics to be confident in sharing personal pro-life values

”Valuing the right to life of every human being is a truly compassionate position. In our own homes and workplaces, and among our friends, we need to have the confidence to speak truthfully and respectfully about the dignity of every human life,” they said.

Secondly, they advised Catholics to be present to women in pregnancy.

“Our casual comments or reactions can be encouraging and supportive, or negative and dismissive, when a family member, friend or girlfriend tells us she is pregnant. Over the years many mothers in crisis have felt supported –sometimes at the very last minute – by a sensitive offer of practical help to find a way out of their crisis, other than by ending the life of their unborn baby.”

They encouraged Catholics to find out about pro-life support groups for women in crisis pregnancy; for parents of children with life-limiting conditions; and those which provide spiritual support for people following abortion.

They also encouraged Catholics in the UK and Ireland to sign-up for the “Pray for Life” Novena — which begins on 23 May and concludes on 31 May, the Feast of the Visitation.

The Bishops concluded by saying they “remained convinced that the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act, 2018, will, in due course, be repealed.”

“We welcome the fact that a number of Oireachtas members have stated that they do not wish to see a liberalisation of the current law,” they said, adding:

”We will continue, however, to encourage a greater political acceptance that abortion is not the solution to a crisis pregnancy.

“The Gospel of Life will not be silenced. Five years on we will continue to advocate that “both lives matter”. We will continue to seek loving and supportive protection for every mother in distress and for every child in the womb, including those diagnosed with a disability or a life-limiting condition.

“We do so because we believe that all human life is sacred, and that Ireland and the rest of the world will one day come to accept this truth. Meanwhile we continue to do our best to change the narrative through dialogue and by testifying, in season and out of season, to the Gospel of Life.”

This piece was first published on Gript.

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